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Warriors and Rockets can’t escape each other

Golden State Warriors v Houston Rockets - Game Four

HOUSTON, TX - MAY 06: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors drives to the basket defended by James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets in the third quarter during Game Four of the Second Round of the 2019 NBA Western Conference Playoffs at Toyota Center on May 4, 2019 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

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In Game 1 of the 2015 Western Conference finals, the Warriors beat the Rockets by going small with Draymond Green at center. The strategy was still in its infancy. The term “death lineup” hadn’t even been coined yet.

Twenty games later, and small ball is still defining the Golden State-Houston playoff matchup.

These teams have been developing and honing their strategies against each other for years. After preferring to go big with Dwight Howard at center, the Rockets now deploy their own hyper-effective small lineup with P.J. Tucker at center. That unit led Houston to a Game 4 win last night, ensuring the second-round series will go at least six games.

That means the Rockets and Warriors will meet in at least 23 playoff games in the last five years. That’s the most playoff games between franchises in a five-year span since the Knicks and Heat played 24 from 1997-2000. The Bulls and Knicks, who met 25 times from 1992-96, are the only other teams to play more playoff games in a five-year span since the NBA-ABA merger.

A rundown of Golden State-Houston playoff matchups:

  • 2015 conference finals: Warriors 4, Rockets 1
  • 2016 first round: Warriors 4, Rockets 1
  • 2018 conference finals: Warriors 4, Rockets 3
  • 2019 second round: Warriors 2, Rockets 2

This familiarity has developed into bad blood, tight games and a highly anticipated finish to this series. This is a rivalry that has brewed unlike any other in a while.

Here are the most playoff games between teams in a five-year (or, occasionally, four-year) span (series wins in parentheses):